This month, I learned details about my husband’s paternal grandfather’s voyage to start a new life in America. We learned he arrived on New Year’s Day in 1930 to Ellis Island. He was only 22 years old and had traveled aboard the MS Vulcania from Sparti, Greece. We now have these incredible details thanks to help from the Saline Country Library. 

Our public libraries are a treasure and provide valuable resources to our communities.

Whether you are a bibliophile and enjoy the weight and smell of a book in your hand as you read or you prefer to consume your media digitally via an e- or audiobook, look no further than your local public library to cultivate your curiosity. 

While the Saline County Library houses more than 250,000 printed books, the library offers a wide variety of resources to the community totaling nearly 500,000 items in circulation including DVDs, electronic content, audiobooks, e-books and specialty items available for rent. You can host meetings, update your passport, learn a new language, meet friends at a monthly adults-only night, or bond with your child or grandchild during one of the many monthly children’s programs. 

Use your Saline County Library card, and access to materials and programs is available to you for free! According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, “Americans read an average of 12 books per year” and reports, if you were to borrow your books instead of purchase them, you could save more than $300 a year. 

The Saline County Library offers you other budget-friendly options. Curious about the Instapot and how it works? Interested in trying out a new workout like Zumba? Or perhaps you need to unwind with a coloring book for adults? You can rent a buzz box curated by the Saline Country Library with everything you need to try your new hobby before you invest in it. Your library card also provides you discounts at more than 70 local businesses in Saline County during September.

A Storied Past 

The Benton Public Library was established by the Junior Fortnightly Club of Benton, a women’s civic group, in March of 1931. Together they began fundraising for Saline County’s first library in Benton and collected 600 books and donated 300 of their own books to the library’s collection. The library was housed on the top floor of the Walton Building in downtown Benton. 

In 1934, the Benton Public Library became a project of the Public Works Administration formed under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and a part of the New Deal. This allowed for the library to operate six days a week and for additional staff to be hired. In 1935, the Junior Fortnightly Club turned over library operations to the City of Benton and provided a new location next to City Hall on South Street. 

In 1946, Dr. Dewell Gann, Jr. donated his father’s office building to the city to house the library in honor of his parents and their service to Saline County. In 1948, the library was moved to that location and the Gann Memorial Library was officially dedicated. In 1964, the old Palace Theater was deeded to the Saline County Public Library Association. In 1966, the County Library Boards combined with members from the Gann Memorial Library board, and after a successful fundraising campaign the library reopened at the Palace Theater in 1967. In 1969, the Bryant Branch of the Saline County Library opened on donated land. 

In 1998, Jim Stilwell, Mike Duke, and Jim Villanes donated land to build the new Benton Library location, the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library. The same year, Ted and Joyce Boswell donated additional land for the new Bryant Library location, the Mabel Boswell Memorial Library. In 2002, the Bryant location opened to the public. In 2003, the Benton location opened to the public. 

The team at the Saline County Library is working on innovative solutions to provide greater access to the library. In 2019, the Saline County Library received the John Cotton Dana Award in public relations excellence from the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) division of the American Library Association. Winning $10,000 for their work through the “Power of the Card campaign,” Saline County Library is exploring the idea of a mobile book kiosk.

“We are hoping to put a moblie kiosk in either Paron, Salem or the Sardis area,” explains Kari Beesley, Marketing Manager of the Saline County Library System. “I think one thing that makes the library so special is that we aren’t out to sell you a product; we are here to provide you an experience. It amazes me that no matter how small or big the library has been, it’s always been centered around volunteers and the community who make it stronger.” 

This year, take time to visit your Saline County Library. This organization with its rich history has so much to offer. This year you will have the ability to learn something new, like how to make fresh pasta or your own quilt, or maybe learn even more about your family story. Allow yourself to explore all the library has to offer because, quite honestly, who doesn’t love a good story?